Why Does Mexican Food Upset My Stomach?

Many of us love the bold, spicy flavors of Mexican cuisine. But if you’ve ever felt digestive discomfort like gas, bloating, or stomach pain after eating Mexican food, you’re not alone. Let’s explore some of the most common reasons why Mexican food can lead to stomach upset for some people.

The Spice Factor

One of the signature aspects of Mexican food is spice. Chile peppers, salsa, jalapeños, and other spicy ingredients are used liberally in dishes like enchiladas, tacos, and burritos.

Capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their heat, is known to irritate the digestive tract for some individuals. Consuming large quantities can inflame the stomach lining and cause discomfort.

Additionally, spicy foods may exacerbate underlying conditions like gastritis or ulcers. The pepper’s heat causes inflammation of the already-sensitive mucosal lining. This can lead to painful indigestion, heartburn, and stomach pain.

Those with gastrointestinal issues like IBS may also experience worsened symptoms when eating spicy Mexican fare. The irritation and heat can overstimulate nerves along the digestive tract.

If you experience stomach troubles related to spicy food, try these remedies:

  • Consume dairy products like milk or yogurt to help coat and soothe the stomach lining
  • Avoid spicy dishes or request mild salsa and sauces
  • Opt for menu items without peppers like fajitas, carnitas tacos, or cheese enchiladas

Beans, Corn, and Fiber

Two primary ingredients in Mexican cooking are beans and corn. Both are packed with insoluble and soluble fiber.

While fiber aids digestion for most people, large quantities can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals.

Soluble fiber pulls water into the digestive tract and adds bulk. For those sensitive to high-fiber foods, this can lead to loose stools or diarrhea.

Insoluble fiber can’t be broken down and passes through the system intact. It adds bulk but doesn’t dissolve, which can result in uncomfortable gas and bloating.

Tips for handling fiber-rich Mexican food:

  • Start slowly when introducing high-fiber foods like beans
  • Drink plenty of water to aid digestion
  • Choose corn tortillas over flour, as corn has less fiber
  • Ask for rice instead of beans or mixed veggies as a side dish
  • Take a digestive enzyme supplement before eating to help break down fiber

Hidden Sensitivities

It’s possible the ingredients in Mexican food are triggering an undiagnosed food sensitivity or intolerance. Common culprits include:

  • Lactose: Cheese, crema, queso, and sour cream are used liberally. Those with lactose intolerance may experience diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
  • Gluten: Flour tortillas, soy sauce, thickened sauces, and fried foods may contain gluten. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can experience severe abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • Nightshade vegetables: Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant are nightshades. Some find them inflammatory, causing joint pain or IBS flares.
  • Onions/garlic: These aromatic ingredients can lead to bloating, gas pain, and indigestion issues in sensitive people.
  • MSG: Monosodium glutamate is a common additive used to enhance flavor. Those with MSG sensitivity may experience headaches, flushing, and gastrointestinal upset after eating dishes containing the additive.

If you consistently have stomach troubles after eating Mexican food, try an elimination diet to pinpoint ingredients you may be reactive to. Then avoid those triggers.

Dangerous Bacteria

Foodborne illnesses from contaminated Mexican food can also lead to gastrointestinal distress.

Ingredients like raw veggies, undercooked meat, unpasteurized cheese or dairy products, and improperly prepared salsas and sauces can harbor dangerous bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, or listeria.

Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Fever and body aches

To reduce the risk of food poisoning:

  • Opt for well-cooked meat, thoroughly washed veggies, and pasteurized dairy
  • Choose reputable restaurants with high food safety standards
  • In Mexico, only drink sealed bottled water and avoid raw vegetables or unpeeled fruits

Fatty, Fried Foods

The cuisine of Mexico is diverse, encompassing fried street foods as well as healthier grilled options. Fried dishes, rich moles, cheese-stuffed entrees, and creamy desserts may taste delicious but can cause havoc for your stomach.

Greasy, fatty foods can lead to:

  • Heartburn, acid reflux, and upset stomach
  • Nausea, indigestion, and diarrhea
  • Gallbladder pain, as fat digestion requires increased bile production

Tips for avoiding GI issues from fried, fatty Mexican dishes:

  • Prioritize grilled meats, chicken, or fish instead of fried
  • Opt for corn tortillas which have less fat than flour tortillas
  • Avoid menu items described as “crispy,” “battered,” or “stuffed” as these often have a heavy fried component
  • Limit consumption of cheese, crema, sour cream, guacamole, and creamy sauces
  • Skip sopapillas, churros, or flan for less fatty dessert options like fresh fruit

Individual Tolerance

At the end of the day, everyone’s digestive system is different. The way you react to specific foods depends on your individual tolerance levels.

If your body isn’t accustomed to Mexican cuisine, the unfamiliar ingredients and spices could come as a shock to your GI system. Over time, you may adapt and become less reactive.

Conversely, those who eat spicy Mexican fare regularly tend to build up a tolerance. But for newbies, the potent spices, beans, oils, and chilies can overwhelm sensitive stomachs.

How to improve your tolerance of Mexican food:

  • Slowly introduce Mexican dishes into your diet
  • Start with mild items before working up to spicy
  • Take note of ingredients that cause reactions so you can avoid them
  • Drink plenty of water and take probiotics to support digestive health

Be mindful of your own digestive cues and limitations. Avoid problem foods and consider taking antacids like TUMS before a Mexican meal. With some care and personalization, you can hopefully enjoy all the delicious offerings of Mexican cuisine without stomach troubles.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, digestive upset from Mexican fare will resolve on its own. But if you experience severe or persistent symptoms, it’s wise to consult a medical professional.

See a doctor promptly if you have:

  • Bloody stool or black, tarry stools indicating bleeding
  • Ongoing diarrhea lasting over 48 hours
  • Severe vomiting where you cannot keep down any food or liquids
  • Intense abdominal pain that doesn’t improve
  • Fever over 101° F (38° C) which could signal infection
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss

Testing like blood work, stool analysis, endoscopy, colonoscopy, or allergy testing may be needed to identify underlying causes.

Treatment options will vary depending on the cause but may include medication, dietary changes, probiotic supplements, or food allergy shots.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if your symptoms are debilitating and don’t resolve on their own within a couple days. Getting the proper diagnosis is key to creating an effective treatment plan.

Tips to Prevent Mexican Food Related Stomach Upset

With a bit of care and planning, you can prevent or minimize stomach issues when eating Mexican cuisine. Here are some useful pro tips:

Choosewisely – Opt for grilled, baked, steamed and low-fat preparations. Avoid greasy, fried dishes.

Portion control – Don’t overeat rich, heavy foods. Stop when you feel satisfied.

Mind the margaritas – Alcohol can further irritate the digestive tract. Drink in moderation.

Substitute – Ask to swap out problem ingredients like onions, peppers, beans, cheese.

Pace yourself – Don’t overdo it on spicy salsas – add small amounts slowly.

Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water before, during, and after the meal.

Supplement – Consider taking probiotics, digestive enzymes, antacids, or anti-gas aids.

Know your limits – Be aware of which foods cause reactions and avoid them.

Check for cross-contamination – Ensure corn tortillas haven’t touched flour ones, for example.

Ask questions – Inquire about ingredients and preparation methods, especially at new restaurants.

With a few sensible precautions, you should be able to make the most of Mexican cuisine without stomach troubles getting in the way. Pay attention to your personal tolerance levels. And when in doubt, opt for mild!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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